Photo by Wilf Thorne/Houston Dash
By CASSIDY GABRIEL
As teams look to avenge some bitter midweek results, the 13th week of the National Women’s Soccer League is set to feature several crucial fixtures in the narrowing race for playoff spots.
The pressure is on for the last-place Boston Breakers to grab some badly needed points after a controversial midweek draw with the Washington Spirit. But the circumstances could not be more unfavorable: The Breakers head to Seattle to face the Reign, who are unbeaten in 15 games while the Breakers have yet to win on the road. Sky Blue FC is in a similar boat as they look to end an eight-game unbeaten streak for second-place FC Kansas City.
Meanwhile The Chicago Red Stars will return to action after a bye week in their Independence Day match against the Portland Thorns. With both teams tied for fifth place, the Portland Thorns will be looking to recover from their recent slip in form while the Red Stars aim to earn their first win in seven matches. The Thorns will get some help in the form of U.S. National Team midfielder and allocated player Tobin Heath, who arrives late from a stint overseas.
Meanwhile, NWSL Player of the Week Carli Lloyd and the Western New York Flash will look to rebound from their narrow defeat to league-leaders Seattle Reign at midweek. The Flash have the opportunity to share third place with the Washington Spirit with a victory over the Houston Dash on Saturday. The Dash will be hopeful the late arrival of U.S. National Team defender Meghan Klingenberg can be a difference-maker for a club that has struggled to finish out games.
Here’s a closer look at the weekend’s fixtures:
CHICAGO RED STARS at PORTLAND THORNS FC (Friday at 2:00pm ET – watch live)
The Chicago Red Stars return from two-week break against the Portland Thorns this Friday in the teams’ first meeting of the 2014 season. While the Thorns will be looking to regroup after a pair of successive losses, the fifth-place Chicago Red Stars will also be looking to avenge the six match winless streak they accumulated before their bye.
With both teams currently boasting identical 6-6-2 records, the Red Stars are separated from the Thorns only by goal differential, giving Friday’s winner an ultimate upper hand in the standings. The match is expected to mark the season debut of Tobin Heath, who returns from Paris Saint-Germain overseas. After a series of inconsistent results for the struggling Thorns, Heath could be the decisive factor in the clash between these evenly-matched teams if coach Paul Riley opts to give her minutes.
WESTERN NEW YORK FLASH at HOUSTON DASH (Saturday at 9:00pm ET – watch live)
Coming off of another from-behind loss on Wednesday, the Western New York Flash will be looking to get three points from the Houston Dash, who have had trouble stringing together victories all season. Last week’s NWSL Player of the Week Carli Lloyd, who leads the Flash with six goals, will look to carry the Flash to a victory to maintain their treasured fourth-place spot in the table.
With only seven points separating the Houston Dash from the Flash in the NWSL standings, every result will count as the Dash race toward the playoffs. Consistency has been a weakness for the Dash all season, but the same could be said for the Flash, who gave up points from leading positions twice in the past two weeks. With defender Meghan Klingenberg available for her NWSL debut after finishing Champions League play with Swedish club Tyresö FF, the Dash will aim to secure three points and take hold of their up-and-down season.
FC KANSAS CITY at SKY BLUE FC (Sunday at 6:00pm ET – watch live)
Fourteen points separate second-place FC Kansas City and seventh-place Sky Blue FC, and the Blues of Kansas City will be looking to increase the gap on Sunday night. While their eight-match unbeaten streak has been overshadowed by that of the undefeated Seattle Reign, FC Kansas City has maintained a strong claim on second place and sit nine points from first place.
After playing three matches in a span of seven days last week, Sky Blue caught a break Wednesday when a midweek match was eventually canceled due to severe weather. Sky Blue will need to find a way keep their momentum going after a scoreless draw to the Seattle Reign last week and a 2-1 upset win over the Portland Thorns just days before. Against the attacking tandem of FC Kansas City’s Lauren Holiday and Amy Rodriguez, Sky Blue goalkeeper Brittany Cameron’s involvement throughout the match could once again be pivotal, as it has been in Sky Blue’s last two positive results.
BOSTON BREAKERS at SEATTLE REIGN FC (Sunday at 7:00pm ET – watch live)
The Boston Breakers will desperately need to turn around their fortunes if they hope to steal any points from the dominant Seattle Reign on Sunday. After going up by two goals on the road Wednesday only to leave with a draw to the Washington Spirit, the last-place Breakers will look to regroup as they take on the best offense in the league.
This weekend, the league leaders have the opportunity to earn their 13th win of the season over the struggling Breakers and improve on their nine-point lead at the top of the NWSL standings. While Reign has seemed almost invincible, they’ve faced spirited challenges in recent weeks from underpowered teams in Sky Blue and the Abby Wambach-less Western New York Flash. While the Breakers have surrendered more goals in league play this season, they will look to pressure the Reign back line and push for any positive result that they can get their hands on.
What do you think of Week 13’s matchups? Will Heath’s return help the Thorns figure things out? Is an upset against the unbeatable Reign possible for the Breakers? Can Sky Blue FC make a comeback on the league table?
Share your thoughts below.